US embassy move is a day of mourning and a warning

First published by the Middle East Eye on 14/5/2018

As Trump celebrates the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Israel should recognise that the next generation of Palestinians will never stop fighting back

The vultures are circling again, this time on a mission to take another bite out of Palestine’s heart, Jerusalem, 70 years after savaging her to create Israel and in the process driving any remaining doves of peace into the sea.

As Israel celebrates on Monday the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump believes that by doing so, the Palestinians’ dreams of freedom will be dealt the final fatal blow, forcing them to accept that it will never happen.

Failure to acknowledge the Nakba

The “leader of the free world” is sending his son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner; his special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt; and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, with Ambassador David Friedman to mark the embassy move and Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence. All four – including his daughter, who converted to Judaism – would qualify for Israeli citizenship. Their hearts and minds are all firmly on Israel’s side.

To them, like the original Zionists who decided that Palestine would be theirs, indigenous Palestinians are at best an inconvenience and at worst a violent people driven by an inexplicable hatred towards their invaders and oppressors.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery

If Trump’s team had any morals or feelings for the Palestinian people, they would join them in commemorating the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, a day later. Neither they nor their hosts have acknowledged the wrongs done to Palestinians or shown any sensitivity towards them. The rush to move the embassy to coincide with the Israeli celebrations was deliberate, calculated and humiliating.

Palestinians can be excused for taking this to mean that far from wanting to see them attain their legitimate rights, they just hate them.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians by force in two stages: the western part in 1948 and the east in 1967. Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, yet it continues to keep it by force.

Its status as illegally occupied was reconfirmed by the judgement of the International Court of Justice in 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and UNESCO in 2017.

Israel’s facts on the ground

If Trump was genuine about finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted to help the two sides peacefully share the land, he could have announced that the US recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

He could have subjected this to a set of conditions, including that the city must remain undivided, that illegal settlement-building must stop and be reversed, and that changes to the demography and Israel’s Judaisation policy must cease.

Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more ‘reality’ he will recognise

He could then have set a date by which a Palestinian state would be created on 1967 borders and a resolution reached to all outstanding issues between the two sides in accordance with international law.

Instead, Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more “reality” he will recognise. Only the staunchest supporters of Israel in his administration could have convinced him that this decision would bring peace any closer.

People walk near the compound of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street on 11 May 2018 (AFP)

The international community (minus the US and Israel) rejected his decision, both in statements and at the UN Security Council and General Assembly. However, it has taken no action to pressure Israel to return to genuine peace negotiations.

Trump’s decision unleashed anger and protests in every corner of the world, but the reality is that the protests could not be sustained beyond the initial few weeks after the announcement, and the anger has not been channelled into a strategy by Palestinians or their supporters to reverse it.

Entrenching the occupation

The decision, however, helped to precipitate the peaceful Great March of Return, in which Palestinians in Gaza camped at the fence separating them from the homes from which they were violently driven through Zionist Jewish terror in 1948. Palestinians once again reminded the world that they are still waiting to return to the parts of Mother Palestine from which they were expelled 70 years ago. They will never give up this right, whatever facts on the ground Israel creates.

Israel continues to deny them this right by force, with peaceful protesters, journalists and medics being gunned down by Israeli snipers who are heavily protected and hundreds of metres away. It will take whatever it gets, whenever it can, to entrench its occupation, and it will continue to oppress Palestinians and build on their land until the Zionist project is complete.

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Palestinians face reckoning with US administration in a shifting Middle East

Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion thought that “the old will die and the young will forget” when asked what to do with those Palestinians who remained. Well, the old died, as did he, but the young have not forgotten.

Their unshakeable connection to every inch of Mother Palestine has been handed down from one generation to the next. Israel has to deal not only with the six million who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but another six million refugees who yearn for return. That is a reality that Trump does not understand, but the Israelis do, and they are continuously troubled by it.

Resistance lives on

Both of my parents were born in Jerusalem. My father has passed away; my mother is still alive, but has no right to return to her town of birth. A Jewish lady from any part of the world, with no connection to her city, can decide to move to Jerusalem today and be welcomed by Israel and given citizenship, but my mother can’t.

Peace will come to the holy land when my mother can return, and when Jewish Israelis see Palestinians as human beings like them with rights, and not inferior beings.

Trump’s US embassy move is a day of mourning for Mother Palestine, but also a day of warning to Israel that a younger Palestinian generation will take the baton to keep hope alive and resist until Palestinians attain their rights, living peacefully with all in their historic homeland, and Jerusalem is freed from the colonialist vultures.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A Palestinian protester stands over cartoons of US President Donald Trump and pictures of him defaced with a blue Star of David during a demonstration in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 20 December, 2017 (AFP)

UNRWA, the US Embassy move and the Israeli occupation

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 24/4/2018

Gazan's gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA's funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Gazan’s gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA’s funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

This will be remembered as the year when the United States of America broke with the international consensus by moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognising the Holy City as the capital of Israel. The deliberate timing of the move to coincide with next month’s 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation in historic Palestine —the Nakba (Catastrophe) — has angered Palestinians whose faith in the US as an honest broker in the peace process has always been low but is now non-existent.

Palestinian anger has been fuelled further by the Trump administration’s removal of references to Palestinian land captured by Israel in 1967 as “occupied” from its latest annual human rights report. “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017” broke with previous policy by changing the section on the human rights situation in Israel and Palestine from “Israel and the Occupied Territories” to “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza”. At a stroke, the US State Department has removed reference to the occupation of any land taken by force by Israel in 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights.

US threats of aid cuts - Cartoon [Arabi21News]

It is rather ironic that the report still claims: “Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Such a change runs counter to international law. Washington’s alleged commitment “to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty” can certainly not be seen as applying to the Palestinian people.

This US administration is chipping away shamelessly at the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which they have demanded for 70 years. Trump claims to have taken Jerusalem off the table, that there is no occupation and that the settlements are no longer referred to as “illegal”. This leaves just one more issue to take off the table, the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 194 in which it resolved that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

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There are now 5.5 million Palestinian refugees clinging to this right; the Great March of Return has seen tens of thousands of them marching peacefully to the border area in Gaza to reaffirm it. While they wait for that right to be implemented, they continue to be supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency was established in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for “Palestine refugees in the Near East”. UNRWA began its operations on 1 May 1950 and its services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict. They are delivered in the main countries where the Palestinian refugees continue to live: the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Gaza, UNRWA provides services to refugees who make up 80 per cent of the population.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN Member States. It also receives some core funding from the regular budget of the United Nations, which is used mostly for international staffing costs.

READ: UNRWA gets cash injection after US cuts

The agency is facing a funding crisis, exacerbated by the US decision to cut its contribution. In January, the State Department announced that it was withholding $65m out of its $125m interim aid package earmarked for UNRWA stating that “additional US donations would be contingent on major changes” by the agency.

When asked what major changes the US Administration asked of UNRWA to continue its funding, the official spokesman was unable to point to specific requirements. Speaking at a meeting in the British parliament organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, Chris Gunness expressed the agency’s surprise at the defunding given that last November US officials had praised UNRWA’s high impact, accountability and flexibility.

The PRC meeting looked at Britain’s relationship with UNRWA. Gunness praised the government’s ongoing financial support but then set out the problems that the agency is facing, which he described as an “unprecedented financial and existential crisis.” He told the meeting that the Trump administration is actually “defunding UNRWA to the tune of $305 million” having only paid $60m in January when $360m was expected. Despite having already started to procure food and non-food items in the expectation of receiving the full amount from the US, UNRWA was told by the State Department that no more would be forthcoming.

US embassy might be moved to Jerusalem – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Gunness described the scale of UNRWA’s work in numbers: it educates 525,000 children, for example, 270,000 of whom are in Gaza. Its health projects offer 9 million patient consultations a year. It employs 33,000 people, including 22,000 teachers and education staff, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees themselves; this gives a huge boost to the economy in Palestinian refugee camps. It also supports small-scale projects through micro finance. “UNRWA is not a light bulb you can turn on or off,” insisted Gunness. “You cannot just offer a third of an education to half a million children.”

UNRWA’s resources have been stretched by the crisis in Syria, the spokesman pointed out. Additional needs have been generated by the 150,000 Palestinian refugees who were among more than half a million living in Syria to flee to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.

Gunness warned that even after the recent Rome conference which sought to raise $466 million for UNRWA, only $110m was raised, including $50m from Qatar alone. Although Saudi Arabia subsequently pledged another $50 million, the agency only has sufficient funds to see it through to July of this year.

The real problem, he said, is the lack of a political solution; this is a conversation that the donor community “is not prepared to have. They seem to believe dialogue about reform somehow replaces it, but it does not. Their focus continues to be on how efficient UNRWA is in delivering its services and the rising costs.” The costs are rising, he added, because there has been 70 years of unaddressed dispossession and 50 years of occupation. “That is what drives the bill up. There are more and more refugees because there is an unresolved political plight and the children of refugees have become refugees.” This “protracted refugee situation” also applies to UNHCR.

When asked what would happen to the refugees if UNRWA collapsed, Gunness said, “Palestinian refugees are human beings with rights.” Those rights do not disappear if UNRWA is not around. “Their options will remain as integration wherever they are, third country repatriation or repatriation, which means going home.” He confirmed that the preferred remedy for dealing with refugees by UNHCR is the right of return in that it produces the most stable outcome.

READ: 100 days since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, the facts

Speaking at the same meeting, Oxford-based Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi warned that the US defunding of UNRWA is designed to “dismantle it”. Professor Nabulsi argued that UNRWA was created by the UN following the “dismantlement of our country and destruction of our society” under its watch. “It was,” she reminded the audience, “initially meant to exist for 6 months to a year but with the passing of time, it had become ‘stabilised’.”

The current crisis, she insisted, is more extreme than those previously, “because it goes at the heart of who we are as a people and that we are a people.” UNRWA, she said, “is the only institution that recognises our inalienable rights and our status as refugees and the obligation of the UN to uphold those and protect us. Its demise would be like you have wiped us off the face of the earth.”

She contrasted the reaction to Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem with the UNRWA funding cut. There was pushback by the international community, including the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, against the embassy move. “The attack on UNRWA, however, has happened very quietly. Not many people understand it or see how important it is.”

Nabulsi reminded the audience that the US Embassy move, the siege on Gaza and other Israeli policies are classic settler-colonialism, which the Palestinians have experienced for a century. “Colonialism displaces the people and sets up a new country instead. It is a process not an event.”

Nevertheless, Professor Nabulsi finished by sharing a reason for optimism. “Because it is an ongoing event, we have a chance to stop it,” she pointed out. “It is not over.”

Palestine- Israel two-state solution is off the rails

First published by the Arab Weekly on 15/4/2018

Whatever the real motives, the outcome would be an entrenchment of Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Another brick in the wall. A 2016 file picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara during an inauguration ceremony of Hahemek rail line. (AP)

Early in his administration, US President Donald Trump stated that he would support whatever the parties agreed to in relation to a one-state or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was a major departure for the United States, which had consistently stated that the two-state solution was the only way to achieve peace. Former Secretary of State John Kerry had argued in December 2016 that if Israel’s choice was “one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic. It cannot be both.”

During the 2015 election campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised there would be “no Palestinian state under his watch.” His coalition partners agree either implicitly or explicitly that the two-state solution is not on the table, particularly following Trump’s election and the formation of a US negotiating team that is wholly pro-Israeli, both in tone and in action.

The Trump administration is still working on the “ultimate deal” that it claims will be difficult for both Palestinians and Israelis to accept. The undertones to the Palestinians are that this will be for “implementation, not negotiation.”

The United States angered Palestinians by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cutting funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the agency tasked with delivering services to Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas severed ties with the US team, arguing the United States cannot be an honest peace broker having made these two critical decisions. However, his efforts to convince other countries or the European Union to take a lead and his call for an international peace conference to take place in mid-2018 have not borne fruit.

The Great March of Return has seen tens of thousands of Palestinians camp and demonstrate on the Gaza border with Israel calling for implementation of their right of return, which the Israelis met with violence, killing tens of protesters and injuring thousands.

Israel refuses to allow the refugees to return, 70 years since UN Resolution 194 giving them this right was adopted. The Gaza march has highlighted the Palestinian refugee problem to the US team, making it clear that, unless the issue is resolved, there will be no peace, whether in one or two states.

The Palestinian leadership clings to the two-state solution despite the ever-increasing number of settlements and settlers in the West Bank. Israel is making it impossible to achieve. It is expanding settlements and key members of Netanyahu’s coalition, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have called for annexing the West Bank.

In any case, Israel has been acting as if it has sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Its latest project demonstrates this clearly. Reports claim that it is starting construction of a railway that would cross into occupied territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The three-phase project would see the railway established on 200 hectares of land. Palestinian agricultural land, trees and water sources would be destroyed in the process. The plan includes building 11 West Bank railways with a length of 475km and 30 stations, some of which would be in illegal settlements.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation condemned the Israeli government for the project.

It is likely that the plan would encourage further settlement construction, as housing in illegal colonies is generally cheaper than it is in Israeli towns and cities. This, together with fast railway connections, would lead to more Israelis residing in illegal settlements. Their opportunities for interaction with the Palestinians would be further limited because it is not clear how Israeli security concerns would be addressed to allow Palestinians to use the railway.

Going further, Reuters reported that Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz recently proposed linking Israel’s freight network with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a project he presented to Trump Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt. He claimed this could benefit the Palestinians “If the Palestinians connect to a railway system, the entire area will get a significant economic boost,” he said.

Whatever the real motives, the outcome would be an entrenchment of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and an erosion of the last possibilities for a Palestinian state.

Israel claims it does not want to see one state emerge as a long-term solution to the conflict. However, these projects are a clear indication that it is creating a one-state reality that can either mean equal rights for all in one state or an apartheid state in which Jewish Israelis dominate Palestinians. It is derailing the two-state solution.

Israel, the West and shameless hypocrisy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2018

UK British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson [Financial Times/Flickr]

The current crisis between Britain and Russia offers yet another example of the shameless hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Israel and almost any other country. Why bring Israel into the attempted murder of two people on the streets of Britain in which Russia, not Israel is implicated? I do so because of the sudden regard for international law that has resurfaced in Western political circles.

Speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russia of using military-grade nerve agent and stated that the two were clear, “that the use of such agent is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a flagrant breach of international law.” A day earlier, he claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had been in breach of international law for the past 10 years because it had been stockpiling nerve agent during that period. Conservative Party chairman Brendan Lewis, speaking on Peston on Sunday, also referred to Russia’s action as being in breach of international law.

Johnson was backed by the EU’s Foreign Ministers who adopted a statement of support for Britain. “Any such use [of nerve agent] is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order,” they said.

Shortly after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the US, France, Germany and Britain issued a joint statement condemning the attack, which took place in the small English city of Salisbury: “It is an assault on UK sovereignty, and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law.”

Accusations that Russia has been in breach of international law have in the past related to its action against the Ukraine and what the West sees as its occupation of Crimea, which Russia disputes. In March 2017, the US Mission in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that, “The United States remains deeply concerned about ongoing Russian violations of international law and defiance of OSCE principles and commitments in Crimea.”

The statement further accused the Russian occupation authorities of “continuing to commit serious abuses against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and all others who oppose Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.”

When the late Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in 1990, the international community only allowed that occupation to stand for seven months. The Iraqi dictator had annexed Kuwait, declaring it to be his country’s 19th province. However, a coalition of forces from 35 countries was formed to free Kuwait, which ejected the Iraqis in early 1991. No one then talked of the Kuwaiti resistance against Iraq’s occupation as “terrorism”.

Both Iraq and Russia faced sanctions for what the international community regarded as illegal acts in Kuwait and Ukraine respectively. There is talk now about further sanctions against Russia following the attack in Salisbury. There are even calls for the English football team to boycott the FIFA World Cup, due to take place in Russia this summer. Responding to a question in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson told fellow MPs that if Russia is implicated then he thought it would be “difficult to see how UK representation at the World Cup can go ahead in the normal way.”

Some in the West are questioning how Russia can continue to hold a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which allows it to wield a veto whenever it chooses. This, it is argued, means it can vote down any resolution that criticises Moscow or its allies, or even considers imposing sanctions on, say, the Syrian government for its actions.

Here, then, is the hypocrisy of the West, which seems hell-bent on singling Israel out for exceptional protection from criticism or meaningful sanctions despite its 50-year long illegal occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land, and its 70-year ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Just like Russia and Iraq, Israel has annexed illegally-occupied land, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The US has been severely critical of Russia for its use of the veto when it comes to Syria and Iran. In 2015, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, claimed that Russian vetoes were “putting the UN Security Council’s legitimacy at risk.” Her successor Nikki Hayley even threatened that if Russia continues to use its veto then the US may have to take unilateral action against Iran. This was after Russia vetoed a resolution that had been watered down from a condemnation of Iran for violating an arms embargo on Houthi leaders in Yemen to “noting with particular concern”.The particular hypocrisy of the US lies in its own use of the veto power on 43 occasions in support of Israel, the last of which was against criticism of its own action in recognising Jerusalem as capital of the Zionist state in December last year. This does not include the number of times that the threat of the US using its veto resulted in resolutions not even making it to a Security Council vote, including an attempt by the PLO to secure recognition of Palestine as a state in 2014.

Britain’s hypocrisy can be demonstrated in its support for sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and its support for sanctions against Russia but its absolute refusal to consider sanctioning Israel for any matter, including its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UK has actually worked to oppose any boycott or sanction against a state that stands accused of Apartheid by an ESCWA report which was sanctioned by the UN but was then taken down under pressure from the US and Israel.

Prominent members of the British government and long-established members of Conservative Friends of Israel work overtime to shield Israel. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, to his utter disgrace, labelled the peaceful and moral Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), designed to pressure Israel to comply with international law, as “anti-Semitic”. Gove has even called for Britain to move its Embassy to Jerusalem in a move that would be against international laws and conventions.

Britain has now indicated that it might not send members of the Royal family to the World Cup in Russia but has announced that Prince William — second in line to the throne — will make an official visit to Israel this year despite its continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its illegal annexation of Jerusalem, its Apartheid Wall and its illegal siege on Gaza which has been said to constitute collective punishment and is thus a war crime.

Palestinians and their supporters, therefore, have ample reason to call out the international community for its hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to dealing with Israel, whose illegal actions and breaches of international law have accompanied its whole 70-year existence. Remember this fact the next time that a Western politician defends Israel’s breaches of international law as “acts of self-defence”. It is the only country in the world to which the permanent members of the UN Security Council and others in the West grant such exceptional immunity.

 

Israel’s encroachment on Hebron is devastating to Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 11/3/2018

Apart from the economic effects of the occupation of Hebron, the settlers make the lives of Palestinians miserable and often violently attack them.
Worsening toll. Palestinian men walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron, last December. (AFP)
Worsening toll. Palestinian men walk past closed shops in the West Bank city of Hebron, last December. (AFP)

It has been 24 years since Jewish Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshipers in Alkhalil Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque, known to Jews as Cave of the Patriarchs. The attack happened during dawn prayers in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Goldstein was an immigrant from New York to Israel who was active in the extremist Kach political movement in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba and he was known to Israeli intelligence. He was found and beaten to death by a crowd soon after the massacre.

Unlike attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, Israeli authorities did not demolish the home of the perpetrator. Rather, his grave has become a shrine for the Jewish extremists and the inscription on his tomb reads: “He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land.”

The city has never been the same since.

Following the massacre, the Israeli government enhanced security for settlers across occupied Hebron. In addition, the Ibrahimi mosque was divided, with Muslim access reduced to approximately 40% of the site. The other 60% was allocated to Jewish worshippers, who entered the site from a separate entrance. The Palestinians saw this as a reward for Israeli terrorism.

The security measures, which prevail to this day, saw parts of the city near illegal Israeli settlements closed to Palestinian residents.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, which the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and some 800 illegal Jewish settlers, which Israel moved into the old quarter of the city after its occupation in 1967. The settlers are protected by an entire military brigade.

The Hebron Protocol, signed by Binyamin Netanyahu in January 1997, during his first term as Israeli prime minister divided the city into two sections: H1, 80% of the city under full Palestinian control; H2, where four Jewish neighbourhoods are located under full Israeli control but includes 40,000 Palestinian residents.

Since 2015, Israel has declared various parts of the old city “closed military zones,” forcing Palestinian shops to close. Up to 18 military checkpoints have been set up around the entrance to the mosque and to control access to Palestinians and visitors to the old quarter.

The security arrangements bring continuous misery to the Palestinian residents who face daily oppression through the need for permits to enter their homes, restrictions on vehicle movement causing them difficulties in bringing in goods and materials to homes and businesses.

Hebron makes a major contribution to the Palestinian economy, including 40% of its GDP and 40% of its exports, the Palestine Economy Portal stated. Hebron contributes one-third of animal production in the West Bank. However, Israel’s repeated closures and restrictions on economic activity have restricted the city’s potential to lead Palestine’s economic development and is heavily affected by the occupation.

Its centre has been devastated through the forced closure of businesses, including those on the famous Shuhada Street, the main thoroughfare and commercial hub of Hebron (next to which three of the four Jewish neighbourhoods are located). The street, which is closed to Palestinian traffic, looks like a scene from a ghost town.

Apart from the economic effects of the occupation of Hebron, the settlers make the lives of Palestinians miserable and often violently attack them. Children in the centre of the city often need to be accompanied to school to protect them from settler abuse and violence. Rather than the Israeli military protecting the children, they protect the settlers.

Since the Palestinian uprising in 2015, the Israeli military has carried out several extrajudicial killings in Hebron, alleging potential knife attacks by Palestinians. This includes the Elor Azaria’s infamous killing of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif, who was lying on the ground heavily injured. The shooting was captured on camera and outraged Palestinians and their supporters.

Israel’s providing full protection and access to Jewish settlers in the city and designating roads as settler-only have brought accusations that it implements discriminating policies in the city.

The city’s future is likely to see further restrictions on the lives of Palestinians and an embodiment of the settlers, particularly following the naked bias of the US administration in favour of Israel through its recent decisions that culminated in its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel is likely to reinforce its grip on the city, making the lives of Palestinians in its centre so miserable that they will move out to escape the terror of the settlers and the military.

Israel may expand the presence of the settlers, helping to take more Palestinian homes and to build new illegal housing units as it did in 2017 following the UNESCO decision to list Hebron’s old city as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

The Palestinians face a battle with Israel not only over Jerusalem but also over Hebron.

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Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/2/2018

The Palestinian president has called for an international conference by mid-2018 to recognise Palestine as a state, but prospects are bleak amid US bias towards Israel

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and triggered the move of the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump’s Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. “This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?” he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard “truths”. Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had “expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say”, and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem.”

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: “There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

‘Deal of the century’

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.

The call by Abbas for an international conference appears dead in its tracks when one considers the last attempt by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, to hold one in far more favourable political conditions, in the dying days of the Obama administration.

The conference was attended by some 70 countries, excluding Israel and the Palestinians, with Britain sending a low-level official instead of its foreign secretary. Even well-informed followers of the conflict would struggle to recall what the Paris conference achieved; its call for the status of Jerusalem not to be changed unilaterally was disregarded by Trump almost exactly a year later.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, awaits Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the Security Council on February 20, 2018, as US presidential adviser Jared Kushner looks on (AFP)

The US administration is continuing to develop its “deal of the century”, with Haley recently cautioning that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would “love” it. Palestinians will have to reject the deal if, as leaks have suggested, the core issues of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees are taken off the table.

Israel, meanwhile, will have a great hand in influencing the deal, but it will still claim that it falls short of meeting its security needs – but that it can work with Trump’s administration to improve it. The more they “improve” it, the less favourable it will be to Palestinians, who will be castigated for again “disrespecting” the administration.

Cards stacked against Palestinians

How could an international conference be held under this kind of near-certain outcome, and why did Abbas misguidedly specify an almost impossible date for the process, knowing the cards are stacked against him?

The only factor that could reshuffle the cards would be a change in the Israeli prime ministership. While the prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu staying in power change from day to day, his absence could change the game – but with a weak left and an emboldened Israeli right, it is unlikely that either a left-led coalition or a pragmatic, right-leaning leader would come through.

You need only list the names of the potential prime ministers to conclude that a change in leadership would merely diminish peace prospects further: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. None have a desire to see an end to the settlement enterprise or the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, or to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Gabbay, who leads the Labor party, opposes the removal of even the most isolated outposts, and he told a meeting of party activists that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”

Climate of hatred

This is hardly a group of individuals that really want to see a just peace. And why would they not take advantage of a US administration that is solidly behind Israel’s expansionist goals?

The pro-Israel lobby in the US worked for decades to see an American administration that would not only acquiesce to Israeli demands, whatever they happen to be, but even use talking points produced by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to make the case.

Among others, these talking points include comments about how “the settlements are not an obstacle to peace”, references to “realities on the ground” and “Israel’s security needs”, and remarks about how Israel is “unfairly treated” and picked on disproportionately considering everything else that is happening in the Middle East.

Trump’s disruption through his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have produced a climate much more favourable to peace – that is, if he had recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and conditioned the building of two embassies on the conclusion of peace talks based on international law, within, say, two years.

Instead, Trump clearly staked out his side, fuelling a climate of hatred and fear. Hope in the Holy Land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely.

Unless he finds the courage and wisdom to retract his decision, the hope tap will remain off, and no amount of pleading by Abbas or a change in Israel’s leadership will be able to force it back on. This is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018 (AFP)